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  • Writer's picturearandomwalkwithmj

Running with MJ: A Different Perspective

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

This week’s blog is a discussion with my twin cousins and their perspective on running, which is very different from my own. Frankly, Heather authored most of the post – thanks Heather! The photographers are also Heather and Nicole’s (except for the photo of Killarney Provincial Park, that is mine).

What I really like about this post is how they present a completely different perspective on running – and athleticism – than I do. Even COVID and cancelled races hasn’t stopped them. The other thing I really like is the smiles on their faces while they are running, or when they have finished!

Nicole competing in a Backyard Ultra with a huge smile on her face in both photos.

When you can’t control what’s happening around you, challenge yourself to respond to what’s happening, and that’s exactly how my twin cousins Heather and Nicole embraced 2020.

For the last 12 years, these two women have been marathon runners and although they both have full-time jobs and families, they still manage to incorporate running into their daily schedules. Nicole said “we train almost everyday, the volume and intensity of which depends upon whether or not we are preparing for a race or event. Not only is it important to keep fit as we get closer to 40, it’s essential for our mental wellbeing as well. It gives me a sense of presence – an active meditation if you will”.

Boston Marathon 2010
Heather and Nicole before the Boston Marathon

Under normal circumstances 2020 would have seen my cousins compete in the prestigious Boston Marathon in April. The 42.2 km race is the world’s oldest annual marathon event, however, due to the COVID-19 restrictions it was cancelled. “We both ran Boston in 2010 so we thought it would be fun to experience the race again, 10 years later,” Heather said about herself and her sister Nicole. “Our training started in mid-December and after 14 weeks of cold Canadian winter training, it was announced that the Boston Marathon would be postponed (and later cancelled).” However, Heather still wanted to participate as she had planned, so on April 18, which would have been the race weekend, Heather decided to run the marathon in her local community.

Heather and Nicole after the Boston Marathon

“My training, consisting of running an average of 80 km a week, had gone really well and I was fortunate not to have any injuries, so I made the decision a week before the original Marathon Monday to try to run a solo marathon. With about six kilometers to go, I was ready for it to be over. I had a bit of headwind and needed some fluids, which would normally be distributed through water stations, but I knew that I had a really good pace, so I kept on grinding through it.” Separately, Nicole and her family followed Heather by leaving inspirational messages in chalk and honking their car horn when they were close. Nicole was rehabilitating from an injury she developed when she ran the New York Marathon in the fall of 2019 so she didn’t want to risk re-injury.

The end result was that Heather finished the marathon in three hours and seven minutes, shattering her previous personal best time by nearly five minutes. “It may not have been Boston Marathon with all the excitement and crowds lining the route, but it will be the most challenging and memorable marathon I think I’ll ever run,” Heather said.

As the year progressed, like most other athletes, Nicole and Heather put their focus on coming up with creative solutions for maintaining their enthusiasm for running. For example, Heather tried a challenging orienteering/trail running race for the first time ever, which was organized with staggered start times to ensure physical distancing. Then in December, Nicole proposed a challenge to Heather to complete a Backyard Ultra Marathon. There had been a few of these events held world-wide during the pandemic so they researched the rules and decided on a week’s notice to attempt it. The rules for the race were actually quite simple (but crazy): Run 6.71 km every hour on a course that consists of the same 6.71km loop. Each loop starts on the hour so if you finish the previous loop early, there is time to refuel and mentally prepare yourself for the next loop. There is no finite distance to conquer in this type of race so you try to run as many loops as you can. The significance of the distance of 6.71km is that over exactly 12 hours, you run 50 miles which is the distance of an Ultra Marathon.

Running is a part of Heather and Nicole’s family. The first photo is of Heather and her boys after they had completed a Terry Fox run (a traditional run held across Canada to raise money for cancer). The other two are Heather with her boys and Nicole with her 3 children.

Nicole after completing her Backyard Ultra, Dec 31st

Heather decided to attempt the run on December 30th while Nicole chose December 31st. In the end, Heather ran 13.4 loops (13.5 hours) with a distance of 90 km while Nicole completed 15 loops (15 hours) for a distance of 100.65 km. “We were both very happy with the results. Having never run a distance greater than a marathon (42.2km) this was an accomplishment and now we can officially call ourselves ultra marathoners. Since Nicole beat me it just means we’ll have to attempt to run it again for a rematch” said Heather.

Knowing that racing events will also be impacted in 2021, we are already planning some unique adventures that are outside of the realm of our typical road running races. Next up for us is to try to conquer the La Cloche Silhouette Trail (78 km) in June. The La Cloche Silhouette Trail is a challenging but rewarding trek in Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. “We’re going to try to complete it in less than a day with a goal of under 18 consecutive hours with 2 other females. It's an aggressive goal, but with the right amount of training we know that we can accomplish it. We know a few others that have attempted this so we’ll incorporate their lessons learned and go for it” said Nicole.

La Cloche Silhouette Trail where the twins plan to run

As an aside, The La Cloche Silhouette Trail is a considered a strenuous and difficult hiking trail. It is usually recommended to take 7 to 10 days to hike the trail. Attempting to do this hike in less than 5 days is not recommended due to its difficulty! Although I have hiked parts of the trail many times, learning that people run the trail was a complete shock. For me, this trail isn’t about conquering it, but enjoying the beautiful quartzite ridges, the amazing opportunities to see wildlife, and to just enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Not to mention my cousins are running this during bug season!

Heather doing a trail orienteering race

Heather also plans to compete in a 24-hour adventure race in August called Wilderness Traverse on a co-ed team. Wilderness Traverse is a 24-Hour Adventure Race hosted annually in Ontario, Canada. Teams of 3 or 4 navigate using map and compass over 150 km of rugged Canadian Shield back-country on foot, mountain bike, and canoe. It is one of the toughest team-based endurance challenges around and simply reaching the finish line is a massive achievement. Nicole’s husband Stu and their brother-in-law Claude have competed in this race a few times.

“I think the reason why we do this is because training and racing bring us joy. I love ramping up and immersing myself in the day-to-day grind that is required to prepare for an endurance run. Athleticism has always been part of our personality and character, and perhaps it was the fact that we grew up on a farm and learned our work ethic and what hard work really meant. The lessons we learn from races help us get better and influence how we do other things in our lives” said Nicole.

Everyone has come across an inspirational quote at some stage in their life, something that encourages them to do something out of the ordinary, something strange — something they wouldn't normally do. “Getting out of your routine takes a lot of work so the pandemic in a way has naturally allowed us to get out of our comfort zone and grow in ways that we would have never imagined possible as runners. The quote that best resonates with me for 2020 was: There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone (Jocko Willink). Yes, 2020 had its challenges but, we’ve turned those challenges into opportunities” said Heather.

Bring on 2021!

Just to mention that our grandfather would have turn 114 today - February 7th, 2021

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